The Netherlands is proposing to ban e-cigarette flavours – what could possibly go wrong?
The government of the Netherlands, led by Paul Blokhuis, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport, is in imminent danger of fooling itself into becoming an unwitting ally of the cigarette trade. By taking measures to make vaping less attractive (notably by proposing a ban on all non-tobacco flavours for e-cigarettes), it threatens to degrade the appeal of a low-risk rival to cigarettes, provide regulatory protection to the cigarette trade, prolong smoking, obstruct quitting, and add to the burden of disease and death. All this in the name of protecting youth, while managing to harm both adults and adolescents. Quite a feat for any politician.
The problem is hubris – believing that the world responds to regulation in the way the regulator thinks it should. Experience suggests foreseeable perverse consequences will be the result of the ill-conceived prohibitions of much safer alternatives to smoking, including flavoured e-cigarettes.
It really isn’t difficult to understand why and how this would happen – I can only assume the State Secretary received very poor advice, which would not be unusual in this field. Nevertheless, twenty-four international experts have set out the arguments and evidence in detail in a submission to the Dutch government, hoping to spare Mr Blokhuis later embarrassment and, even more importantly, to avoid yet more death and disease from smoking in the Netherlands. It should also be a wake-up call to like-minded politicians and naive policymakers in the United States, European Union, and the World Health Organisation who continue to fail to grasp the impact of low-risk products in the real world.
The case is set out in 30-page submission to a Dutch government consultation on the measure. The relevant documents are:
I have made a short submission to the consultation on the European Commission SCHEER Committee preliminary opinion on e-cigarettes. You can respond to the consultation on this very poor scientific assessment here, where you can find all relevant documentation. The closing date is just before midnight CET, Monday 26 October 2020. All contributions are helpful, but keep it polite, objective and on the subject – the science of e-cigarettes – and most importantly, in your own words.
In my view, the problems with the report are too serious and fundamental to justify a line-by-line and paper-by-paper incremental review. I set out the fundamental problems on my 30 September blog: European Commission SCHEER scientific opinion on e-cigarettes – a guide for policymakers. So rather than pretend that this dreadful report can be easily fixed with a few more references and some different takes on the evidence, I have reiterated the main themes of that blog in the “Summary” box of the consultation submission form and provided the blog as a link and upload. I’ve no idea whether they will give this the slightest attention, but they should, because I’ll back when they’ve done the final report.
The preliminary scientific opinion is open for consultation responses until 26 October 2020. The consultation system is here: Public consultation on electronic cigarettes and looks designed to deter responses to the extent possible. ETHRA, European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, provides guidance on responding here. However, that is not the only way to respond to it, though responding directly is important. Another way is to approach the people who are intended to make sense of and use the opinion – policymakers in EU member states and European Commission, politicians in the EU legislature, and stakeholders in the political policymaking process. This post is for them.
In this post, I discuss why the SCHEER preliminary opinion offers no useful analysis or relevant insights to policymakers. It is not that the committee has not reviewed a lot of literature: it has. It stems from a more fundamental problem: a failure to frame the scientific knowledge in a way that will assist policymakers in considering what, if anything, to do next. Though policymakers should be the primary audience, the report also provides little of value to other communities of interest – smokers, vapers, parents, public health or medical practitioners, or businesses.
In this post, I try to anticipate what Brexit means for the UK, for the Tobacco Products Directive and what that might mean for UK and European vapers. it’s in two parts because we need to speculate a little on how Brexit will play out and then how that will affect the TPD compliance in the UK as the TPD evolves from TPD2 to TPD3.
Update 24 September: Cancer Research UK says its hasn’t “been prevented from doing anything by the ASA that we are aware of, so don’t know why this story appeared” and PHE ads were still running on TV last night. So please treat the posting below as an analysis of the legal situation.
The ASA said yesterday: “Our rules prohibits ads for unlicensed, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, in line with European law which took effect in 2016. Ads for products and brands are prohibited and have not been seen or heard on TV or radio since last year.”
I have not seen the Cancer Research ads, but the TV advert from Public Health England (screen shot above) clearly mentions e-cigarettes so would be caught by the ASA’s reasoning.
The embrace of vaping and other low-risk alternatives to smoking runs through the text. This is probably the first significant government policy paper anywhere that recognises and pursues the opportunities of tobacco harm reduction, rather than defining these technologies as a threat to be suppressed. For that, the Department of Health and its allies deserve considerable credit. Continue reading “English tobacco control plan embraces tobacco harm reduction – world first”
Eighteen of us have written a detailed letter to Mr Frans Timmerman, the EU’s Commissioner for Better Regulation (amongst other things) drawing his attention to one of the worst regulations in the EU, the ban on oral tobacco, better known as snus. This ban is now facing challenge in the Court of Justice of the European Union (case C 151/17) by a producer, Swedish Match, and the consumer group, New Nicotine Alliance (see NNA background on the case).
New Nicotine Alliance proposes that the forthcoming Great Repeal Act is used to repeal pointless, burdensome and restrictive EU regulation of e-cigarettes and to lift the illegal, unethical and anti-scientific ban on snus. This may be a ‘quick win’ from Brexit at the point of the departure of the UK from the EU. The government will need to show that there are at least some benefits.
The Great Repeal Act will not actually repeal that much of substance. It will mainly just convert the vast body of EU law that applies in the UK to domestic law. But there is scope for some crowd-pleasing repeals of especially poor regulation, of which the TPD provisions related to tobacco harm reduction are the most obvious candidate.
Fantastic to see the increasingly powerful UK vaping consumer voice tearing into poor policy and bad law that will do nothing but harm while meddling incompetently in the free choices of adults and free movement of goods. The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and its UK implementing regulations are truly dreadful.
Concerns raised in Parliament  about the EU rules are not borne out by the ASH Smokefree GB Adult Survey. Only 9% of vapers report using e-liquid containing 19mg/ml or more of nicotine (the limit set by the EU Tobacco Products Directive is 20mg/ml).